If the purpose of branding is to win and sustain relationships between businesses and customers, then mobile is the latest arena where hearts and minds can be won or lost.
Brand owners across all market sectors need to consider the implications of the mobile era and how their brands will need to adapt.
Mobile advertising is already the fastest growth sector in marketing, where programmatic buying is disrupting the agency media model and the Math Men are challenging the Mad Men. But what happens when a user links from the easy-to-produce mobile ad to the not-so-easy-to-reinvent brand website? More often than not, you leave the mobile era and regress to the PC-world of Web 2.0. This is not the brand experience that customers expect or value.
Now consider some of the brands that analysts and investors think have business models tuned to the future: Apple, Google, Alibaba, Twitter, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb to name but a few. All are now mobile natives, even though some did not start out that way.
At Nucleus, we have been intrigued by mobile – especially the mobile web – since pre-iPad days and have scrutinised its growth with six-monthly surveys (all available to download on www.nucleus.co.uk).
We consciously focused on the mobile web rather than apps, because we think this is where most mobile users are initially won or lost. It is the first brand touchpoint, directly connected to the world of social media: someone on Twitter says George Clooney is getting married in Venice and amanresorts.com spikes with hundreds of thousands of new browsers, most of them mobile.
Mobile devices now drive the majority of website traffic for a growing number of brands, with the luxury sector in particular showing very high smartphone use. Mobile data is also growing exponentially as more smartphones are used to view video – a trend that is bound to continue as bandwidth increases and the cost of connectivity drops. Consumers like browsing their favourite brands impulsively, when it suits them. This change in user behaviour will drive new models of brand engagement.
Mobile commerce is growing too, by 47% year-on-year to 11% of all ecommerce, according to Mary Meeker’s latest Internet Trends Survey. Our own research suggests m-commerce grew even faster, by 198%, with a mobile share of ecommerce already close to 20%, but only for brands that have optimised their websites, booking engines and shopping carts for smartphones. Those that haven’t are already losing out.
This is not only a US and European phenomenon. In China, more people are accessing the web through mobile than PC and in Africa smartphones are forecast to leapfrog PCs. What is common to all these new online communities is that they will only engage with mobile-friendly brands.
So what about apps? Apps still account for 68% of all mobile monetisation, according to Meeker, but the balance is changing fast. Apps currently offer superior functionality but in most cases are not customer acquisition tools in the same way websites are; they are better at sustaining brand engagement.
How does a brand become a mobile native?
The first step is to transform your digital presence and put smartphone users at the centre of your marketing world, recognising the growing power of mobile search. Responsive web design (RWD) is key, enabling a single website design, CMS and SEO for all your audiences or the same individuals using multiple devices. Adaptive web design (AWD) achieves the same end but is specific to different devices and less flexible in a world of ever-changing screen sizes.
It is easy to spot a responsive design, even when using a laptop. Grab the bottom corner of your browser and shrink it diagonally. If the design reformats and reflows into a single column, it is responsive. If the content remains static and becomes illegible, it is not.
Google encourages responsive design as it sees the future as mobile. It already penalises sites that do not deliver a good mobile experience. That in itself is a good enough reason for investment.
Because instant messaging, texts and image-sharing are predominantly mobile, social media is also inextricably linked to smartphones. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, WhatsApp, Tencent and Snapchat account for billions of user hours a day. If brands want to seamlessly integrate to these channels, mobile is the key.
The brands at the forefront of defining the mobile era are reinventing services and disrupting business models. They also have a different aesthetic to Web 2.0 or offline brands. ‘Appy’ iconography ensures they can be recognised instantly in the confined real estate of a smartphone screen, while old-world brands find it more of a challenge to adapt to this confined environment. Their brand identities were designed for a different age, when print media, signage and packaging ruled the day.
So when planning a mobile or omnichannel strategy, it is not just the website that needs to be rethought, sometimes the whole brand system needs attention. Brands with long or unwieldy names need to consider abbreviations, distinctive symbols or even new names.
When developing new brand names, consideration must be paid not only to trademarks and domain names but also to snappy social media handles.
Yours or your competitor’s brand in the customer’s hand?
To some, mobile feels like a dark star exerting its expanding energy field around marketing, creating new billion-dollar enterprises from the ether and threatening the very existence of others. So why have so many brands ignored this opportunity until it has become a threat? Take travel as an example: according to IAB, 32% of UK travel companies have no mobile presence whatsoever and only two of the top 50 UK travel companies have a responsive transactional website. Contrast this with the largely US-based online tour operators and metasearch websites, where all the major players have already made the transition. Guess who is growing market share fastest?
If the goal of marketing is to get closer to customers than your competitors, mobile provides today’s biggest brand opportunity and if it’s not your brand in their hands, it will be your fiercest competitor’s.
Mobile is more than just another channel in an omnichannel strategy. If your brand really is your business, your business needs to be a mobile brand.